I’ve experienced World War II. After my plane went down in the Pacific, I floated on a raft for 47 days, with only rain water to sustain me along with an occasional albatross I’ve killed and eaten and then used as bait to snag fish to skin and eat. I’ve been captured by the Japanese, taken to a POW camp, and been repeatedly abused and demoralized. I felt starvation, and had lice and maggots crawling on me; my foot has been broken, and I think about my family back in California, as I long for the war to end so that I can see their faces—faces that sustain me—again.
I am Louie Zamperini, the main subject of the book “Unbroken.” Angelina Jolie is directing the film by the same name, and it’s scheduled to be released on Christmas Day.
I have also been Stella Bain and Elizabeth Bennet and Mitch Albom and Jane Eyre and Ebenezer Scrooge.
Books do this for us. They allow us to momentarily escape reality and become involved in the lives of others, living vicariously through them as we flip the pages. The results from this type of immersion can vary. Sometimes, we will gain a clearer understanding of the world. Perhaps we’ll transform via an eye-opening revelation. Maybe we’ll have compassion for something we never dreamed we’d have compassion for. Or, maybe, just maybe, we will laugh at the characters, and ourselves, as we realize how ridiculous life can be at times.
I can’t image my life being as full as it is if I didn’t read stories. You are what you read.
“Unbroken” is not a book I would typically pick up. I tend to lean toward romance, relationship stories, contemporary women’s fiction, and an occasional suspense novel. However, at the recommendation of my mother, husband, and members of my book club, I took a leap and read Louie’s story. I have recommended it now on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, to friends I know, and to my students who have heard me tell parts of the story because it’s so remarkable. Now, I am recommending it to those of you who have not yet read this incredible piece of work.
I do my best as a professor to get my students reading outside of classwork. Some of them are excellent readers, with quite a wide variety of interests and genres. Others need a push. But when we read something as amazing as “Unbroken,” we can’t imagine hearing the story in any other way. Laura Hillenbrand, the author, goes about her craft so meticulously and elegantly, revealing the story at a melodic, somewhat haunting pace, that we cannot tear ourselves away from Louie’s predicaments. We are swept up in his story, and at the end, are left marveling at both his incredible journey and Hillenbrand’s grace as a storyteller.
Reading allows us to immerse ourselves into place, culture, dialogue, people, and conflict. It allows us to see things from a new perspective. Having read “Unbroken,” I will never be able to look at a World War II veteran in the same way. I always knew they risked their lives and fought for freedom, but never before did I realize the magnitude in which these men sacrificed themselves. In order make our world a safer place to live, they put themselves in harm’s way; they did it to free people who should not have been enslaved and murdered, and to guarantee the freedom of so many who suffered at the hand of evil and cruelty.
I intend to continue to immerse myself in other places and characters. Right now, I’m in Scotland as Claire Barclay. I’ve been relocated from England; my mother has just remarried after my father’s death several years ago, and we are starting anew. It may be “The Long Way Home” by Robin Pilcher, but it’s home to me already after what I endured in Japan.
I can’t wait to see where the next book takes me after Scotland.